Conference USA Ready to Take America By Storm
When the Big East raided Conference USA for some of the league's best teams after the 2005 season, the raid left Conference USA in a state of disarray.
C-USA had routinely put four teams in the NCAA Tournament since its inception in 1995, but the NCAA Tournament stalwarts from the conference were Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, and Memphis.
Suddenly, three of the teams Conference USA hung its hat on were gone.
After three years of receiving a total of four NCAA Tournament berths (three of which belong to Memphis), Conference USA is making a comeback in the 2008-2009 season.
The league is arguably the strongest it's been since the Big East went pillaging three years ago.
As many as four different teams have legitimate NCAA Tournament hopes, while several more should be planning to go dancing in the NIT.
Teams That Could be Headed to a Four-Letter Tournament
The Tigers have dominated Conference USA since Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, and South Florida bailed on the league. Memphis has won 42 consecutive league games and has lost only one game against C-USA competition in the past three years.
John Calipari's program is a pipeline for professional talent, sending three players to the NBA last year alone.
This year, things are a bit different for Calipari. He's got the weapons to run his dribble-drive motion offense, but those weapons aren't nearly as deadly as years past.
Memphis lacks depth in the frontcourt and can't really hit free throws again, but that doesn't mean this team won't be very good.
The Tigers have one of the best freshmen in the country in Tyreke Evans, super senior Antonio Anderson, who flirted with the NBA draft last year, and two stud big men in Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier.
Memphis is the best team in Conference USA, but just barely. The Tigers will win the conference and head to the NCAA Tournament as a five seed.
Mike Davis finally has the Blazers ready to compete with Memphis. It's taken him two years since he took over the program from Mike Anderson before the 2006 season.
The Blazers have an extremely talented nucleus of players, headlined by one of the best streak shooters in the country, Robert Vaden. Just ask Kentucky what he can do when he gets hot.
Vaden won't have to do it all himself.
Fifth-year senior Paul Delaney III can really score. After blowing out his knee last year, Delaney is back, healthy, and scoring. Delaney is averaging 17 points per game and knocking down six free throws per game so far.
Forward Lawrence Kinnard is averaging almost a double-double, but can also step out and hit a three.
UAB isn't quite as talented as Memphis, at least on paper, but the Blazers should challenge the Tigers for the league crown.
UAB should make it into the NCAA Tournament as a seven or eight seed.
Stefon Jackson can score—he can really score. The reigning Conference USA scoring champion is back for another season and will lead the Miners into contention for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Two other starters return, as well as the league's best sixth man, Randy Culpepper.
Scoring will rarely be a problem for UTEP, but coach Tony Barbee needs to get his team to play defense. The Miners ranked last in the conference in scoring defense.
UTEP will likely just miss out on the NCAA Tournament, but will be a very high seed in the NIT.
The Golden Eagles haven't been relevant in almost two decades, but that could change in 2009. Larry Eustachy returns all five of his starters from a team that finished tied for fourth last year.
Jeremy Wise, A.L. Horton, and Courtney Beasley all average double figures, and sixth man Craig Craft is a capable three-point shooter off the bench.
Southern Miss will be walking a fine line like UTEP between the NCAA Tournament and the NIT.
The Golden Eagles will likely fall into the NIT, but receive a high seed.
Going to a Three-Letter Tournament
The Golden Hurricanes should by logic be able to make the NIT. After winning the inaugural College Basketball Invitational and losing only two role players, the Hurricanes should be in contention to make the NIT.
One of the conference's best inside-outside combinations belongs to coach Doug Wojcik. Guard Ben Uzah (15 ppg in 2008) and 7'0" center Jerome Jordan (10.5 ppg in 2008) should put points on the board with ease.
Tulsa should peak as an NIT team, but has the potential to go to the Big Dance if Jerome Jordan continues to improve and show off his potential to be a professional prospect.
The Cougars lost a lot of scoring with the departure of Robert McKiver, who shared the scoring title with Stefon Jackson. Only one starter returns to Tom Penders' team, but freshman Aubrey Coleman and transfer Qa'rraan Calhoun should make this team competitive enough to win a few games during the conference schedule.
Houston is off to a decent start, and it should continue through the New Year. The Cougars should be a borderline NIT/CBI team.
The Rest of the Conference Isn't Very Good
Outside of Marshall, there really isn't another team in the conference that can remotely challenge Houston for sixth.
The Thundering Herd returns three starters, brings in three transfers from major programs, and welcomes three freshmen to a 16-14 team. The talent is there, but the results are not. Marshall is off to a bad start at 1-3.
Memphis barely squeaks out its fourth straight conference title over UAB.
Memphis will go with the automatic berth from winning the Conference USA Tournament and enter the NCAA Tournament as a five seed.
UAB will also make the NCAA Tournament as a seven seed.
Southern Mississippi will barely miss the NCAA Tournament and go to the NIT as a one seed.
UTEP will also barely miss out and go to the NIT as a two seed.
Tulsa will barely get an NIT berth as a six seed.
Houston will just miss the NIT and go into the CBI as a top seed.
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